- Managerial perfectionism reduces staff morale and motivation, increases employee turnover, disempowers workers, and creates an efficiency paradox.
- Industry scenarios famous for useless perfectionism include academic dissertation supervision, government report acceptance, and entrepreneurship product development.
- Steps to reduce perfectionism and strike an optimal balance as a manager include lowering one’s threshold for quality.
Ndung’u thrived as a financial analyst at the Nairobi headquarters of a commercial bank with an East African-wide footprint. He enjoyed investigating African public equities trends, compiling reports, and distributing his analysis directly to bank executives.
In September, Ndung’u received an unsolicited fantastic job offer for a higher salary and more responsibilities from a competitor also based in Nairobi.
Upon relocating his office in October from the city-centre to Upper Hill, he settled into his new position as a financial manager. He supervised a team of investment analysts.
Unfortunately, despite his group compiling mountains of investment analysis reports, Ndung’u could not disseminate his findings to bank executives. He kept forwarding the reports to his vice president, but she repeatedly returned them for corrections. Some corrections proved useful. Some stood as nitpickingly fussy about using one word instead of another with the same meaning. Others seemed meant at just making the reports longer and longer such that few would even read them.
By March, the bank had missed several profitable investment and portfolio shifts they could have made based on Ndung’u’s analysis, but decision makers on the board did not receive his reports on time. Instead of apologising for their delay, the board searched for a scapegoat for their laissez-faire approach to portfolio management.
Ndung’u felt frustrated with his diminished autonomy and feared he could receive blame for the bank’s dismal investment decisions. He deeply regretted his job change choice and pondered whether his VP would erroneously blame him for not submitting the analysis sooner even though it was her fault for granularly correcting the reports while withholding them from dissemination.
How many Business Daily readers feel similar frustration with well-meaning bosses who, in their search for perfection, end up messing up timelines, efficiency, and quantity of work? Sadly, many perfectionists persist unaware that their tendencies emphasising faultlessness carries a multitude of undesirable consequences. The famous pithy concise statement “the perfect is the enemy of the good” sums up the dangers that perfectionists can bring to a team.
Psychiatrist Alex Lickerman calls the obsession with perfection as time wasting paralysis. While logically axiomatic that professionals should strike an appropriate balance between moving projects forward and meeting some minimal threshold of quality, millions of managers around the world struggle with placing boundaries on their perfectionism and creating the right optimal balance.
Managerial perfectionism reduces staff morale and motivation, increases employee turnover, disempowers workers, and creates an efficiency paradox whereby colleagues do not appreciate the precise exact outputs and instead gawk and grumble at the time delays and lengths of reports, analysis, decision criteria….
Industry scenarios famous for useless perfectionism include academic dissertation supervision, government report acceptance, and entrepreneurship product development.
Steps to reduce perfectionism and strike an optimal balance as a manager include lowering one’s threshold for quality. Come up with a seven-point Likert scale pertaining to the quality of your team’s work outputs.
Perhaps your scale could look like: 1) dangerous, 2) terrible, 3) bad, 4) mediocre but still embarrassing, 5) acceptable, 6) nice, 7) perfect.
Then, start rating the inputs brought to you by your staff. Become comfortable with allowing number 5 deliverables to move forward for your staff and number 6 deliverables for yourself to proceed.
Second, put timeframes on how long it would take you or your team to get the deliverables up to 5, 6, and 7 status. Notice the huge gap that level 7 perfection causes. Third, realise and focus on the effects that level 7 perfection will cause on your backlog of project completion based on earlier assigned timeframes.
Fourth, find a career coach or professional friend in a different department or organisation to meet with you regularly to go through your Likert ratings and deliverables and see if your perfectionism starts to even creep down into level 5 and 6 deliverables, necessitating you to pull back.
Do not champion your nitpicking as useful perfectionism. Instead, strike an optimal balance that embraces both quality as well as efficiency.
It will change your life and improve the satisfaction of everyone who works with you.
Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor